Why I’m Ready to Break Up With Summer

School’s out, but fun is definitely not in. Why I’m so done with every kid’s favorite season of the year.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

I’m happy it’s about to be summer. Peaches are in season, and I can constantly wear shorts—a big win all around because, to be frank, I have admirable quads, which is still the best thing from having played catcher in Little League.

I just have one wish: That this summer is better than last year, which isn’t a high bar. Last summer was a loser, not in a 2020 way when I had to wear a mask to ride a bike by myself, but by every other metric, the summer of 2023 kind of blew. It started off rainy, then it got swampy hot, and that was really it, except for three nice days in August. The state also decided it was a good time to close the Sumner Tunnel for two months, just as the city was getting back in business. Oh, and the Red Sox were less-than-mediocre for the same high-ticket prices. At least the powers that be made some of the T free, which is a decent deal even if a train is partially on fire.

None of that matters, because regardless of whatever improvements have been made, or not if you’re a certain ball team, I’m solid in my prediction that this summer will be the worst summer ever, more than last summer and more than the summer before. In my world, every summer is the worst summer ever because my kids, 12 and nine years old, are no longer in school. They love that. Me, not so much, because when they’re in school, they’re there until 2:30. Now they’re at a different camp each week, which, if we’re lucky, runs until 12:30, but more likely noon. Some weeks, it’s only for four days, which is fantastic because the only thing summer needs is more long weekends.

I love my kids, but seriously, all you people running camps, you could keep them for longer. I think you’d like them. They’re funny and silly, and at least one of them will help clean up, but to appreciate all of that, you need time. And by time, I mean way more than three hours. I hate to play “back in my day,” but at a certain period in history it was called “day camp” because it lasted, you know, the whole day.

I want them to come home dirty, sweaty, and tired. Mostly tired. Now, they just come home hungry because it’s almost lunchtime and thirsty because they didn’t touch their water. They did get to have candy and chips because the camp sells them, and amazingly, how much my kids love a camp is in direct proportion to the snack selection.

Really, I just want them to come home later. Five p.m. would be the dream; 3 would be sweet, but I’d take 2. How about they’re gone long enough to miss a meal?

This isn’t a call to end summer vacation, a thing that exists merely because it has existed. Sure, there’s an appeal to not disrupt the learning with two months of, well, not learning, and as Jack Schneider, professor of education at UMass Amherst, says, it could be a chance to reimagine school and give attention to the stuff that gets pushed aside, like music and art and anything else that’s not on the test. It would just require a few things to fall into place. Staffing—i.e., teachers—which would mean more money. A willingness to give up the long-ingrained eight-week break. Already those are two hard nos, but there’s an even harder one.

Air conditioning.

My kids’ schools are hot in January, and they already dislike math. They’d like it less if they had to fight through a fever dream.

So summer break isn’t going away. Fine. Kids need the time off, and while I’d love for them to go to camp, what I really want is for them to feel some danger while they do it. As it stands, I bring them, then collect them. Where’s the suspense in that? I want them to have what I had, which is getting picked up at 7:30 a.m. by a high school junior in his Impala. He’d be blasting Foreigner or Van Halen or something else I had no say over. But because I was the oldest, I got to sit shotgun and be in charge of finding a new tape in the glove box. That job had me stoked. Seatbelts? It was 1981.

In between, at camp, we did things like run through high-powered sprinklers, drink juice out of buckets, and play whip-this-ball-at-someone’s-head in a wrestling room that had zero supervision. And that was just day camp. I was also lucky enough to go to overnight camp, where they’d take us to Weirs Beach on trip days. There, the only thing the counselors would say was, “Don’t go by the superette. That’s where the bikers hang out.” Or they’d drop us off at Hampton Beach, where we soon had to face big choices. Do we buy taffy? Do we buy a bong? Do we buy a poncho with Bob Marley’s face on it? Then we’d realize, “We’re 14 and have three hours to kill. We can do it all.”

And we survived. We didn’t have phones or watches to give us the time or directions. We just wandered around, bought fried dough, and managed to meet up at some vague location on a beach. That’s why summer matters. It’s the time when kids answer the great question, “Can I figure this out when I’m not being watched over by caring, nurturing adults who have my best interests at heart and who never tell me offensive jokes?” Scary? Sure. But that’s kind of the point. “Kids can experience a little apprehension,” says Laurie Kramer, professor of applied psychology at Northeastern University. “It’s good.”

Did all of the above make me the street-smart, tough guy I am today? If by street, you mean low-traffic roads with inconsistent sidewalks and little business district to speak of, then, “Yeah, step back when I’m picking up bagels.”

Two problems prevent my kids from having this summer of intrigue. One is price. Camp was never cheap. It’s even less cheap now, and I’ll be honest, I don’t have extra cash lying around. The other is that risky stuff’s not done anymore. Now, camps go on trips to water parks and roller-skating rinks, where it’s “safer” and “cleaner” and “less biker gangier.”

What a bummer.

But again, as a fairly responsible parent, if a camp laid out a plan of: We’re gonna find the scuzziest place, the kind of place where no amount of hand sanitizer can penetrate, and let the kids loose, I’d think, Maybe not. Then after I saw my wife’s face, I’d bump it up to, No effing way.

But here’s a thought. Why even tell me? My parents knew this about sleep-away camp: Drop-off day. Visiting day. Pickup day. They cared about me, but they didn’t need the particulars. You know what’s ruined the fun and hurt parenting more than sleep philosophies? Weekly updates. I receive them from teachers, superintendents, and coaches. I get it. You’re involved, and you want to let us know all the good work you’re doing and all the extra time you have to search the Internet for quotes from Maya Angelou and/or Rick Pitino.

Here’s my suggestion: Keep more to yourself. Knowing isn’t always so helpful. My parents weren’t expecting to be kept abreast, mostly because it wasn’t a thing. Maybe the camp sent out a newsletter. A newsletter. It took the whole summer to write. It had to be typed. If there was a mistake, it had to be retyped. Then it had to be photocopied. Then put into envelopes, which had to be addressed, stamped, and taken to a post office. By the time it arrived, the fact that three kids were stranded on the other side of the lake for 45 minutes six weeks ago was irrelevant.

I wish I could have parented in that age of ignorance, but as a dad in 2024, the truth is that I’m always going to know way too much about what my kids are doing. I just need to figure out a way for them to have a taste of havoc this summer on my budget. Could I take them out myself and help them find trouble? Sure, I could, but I want to be able to say, “I have no idea why they decided that was a good idea” to my wife and be telling the truth. I want them to have this fun without me having to witness it.

I’d be happy if they got together with their friends, got on their bikes, and buzzed the neighborhood making skid marks, yelling about Demon Slayer, and clanging their bells, causing every cavapoo in every window on every street to yip uncontrollably. And every day, they’d end up at the convenience store, touching everything, buying nothing until they got up to the counter, all of which annoys the owner, who’s already pissed off that kids are getting Italian ice and he has to scoop out Italian ice even though he sells Italian ice and it’s the middle of the summer, and there’s no such thing as kid-appropriate scratch tickets.

That’s the danger, the hellraising, the self-discovery that should mark the summer.

And, of course, they’d fully stop at intersections and be wearing their helmets. I’d probably be following somewhat close behind.

First published in the print edition of the June 2024 issue with the headline, “Summer, We Need to Talk.”